Surviving Manhattan's Crosswalks

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Do feel like you're taking your life in your hands ever time you cross the street in the Big Apple? You're not alone, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver. An archive of The Braver Line is available. Rita Braver's email address is rbc@cbsnews.com.
Errrrhhh. Just back from another terrifying, life-threatening experience. Knees are knocking, palms are sweaty. It took guts and strategy, but I persevered. And now I feel pride mixed with anguish, because I know I will soon have to venture forth into a new battle.

Was I enduring the perfect storm? Uh, uh. Climbing a mountain? Not my thing. Fighting off aliens? No, too easy. I was trying to accomplish the death-defying feat of walking in New York City.

The streets of Manhattan are so crowded that you can smell the cigarette fumes clinging to the clothing of the man trudging next to you. Little boys on scooters run right over your toes. Maniacs on bicycles zoom by you at dizzying speeds. But it's the drivers who are really trying to kill you. They have turned the simple act of crossing the street into a diabolic game of chicken.

On one side, the motorist. The bigger the vehicle, the more domineering. Garbage trucks are the most aggressive: Tons of dirty, smelly steel bearing down on a mere mortal. On the other side, the pedestrian. The only thing you have going for you is the fact that the driver is afraid to be identified as actually running over you. But anything short of actually bumping the walker is considered fair game. Speeding up, honking, intimidating and bullying are de rigeur.

Just last week a limo driver aimed right at me, furious that I didn't jump out of his way. The truth was that I was too startled to move. When I finally realized what had happened, I found myself seething with pedestrian road rage as he tried to careen around me. That's when I swung my handbag at the side of his car.

New York does not even have a right turn on red law. But when pedestrians and motor vehicles both get to go at the same time, who do you think is going to get the best of it? And I'm not always the one on foot. I'm often a car passenger and occasionally a driver. Those are the times when I'm terrified that I'll be in the vehicle that collides with someone.

And when I'm behind the wheel I'm the one the other drivers are honking at because I won't threaten to mow down the pedestrians in my path. Now the problem could obviously be solved if all New York drivers took a voluntary vow of niceness. Repeat after me: "I promise never to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who dares to cross the street when I feel like making a turn." Fat chance.

So the only logical solution is for city leaders to take the brave step of putting a red light, right turn light, and walk light system at every busy intersection Yes, some of those famous New York minutes might be lost, but lives would be saved, nerves would be so sweetly unfrayed.

By now native New Yorkers are probably bellowing, "Get 'er outta here," "Go back where ya came from," "Shut your face," and all those other endearing things people say to each other at Yankees games. I do admit this is whining from a greenhorn. Just because I spend a few days a week here doesn't give me a right to gripe, does it?

Well, maybe it does. After all, it's not just me. Sooner or later everyone ends up in New York. And how about all those terrified tourists grabbing onto each other's hands and quaking on curb sides all over Manhattan. We are your meal tickets. We are here to work and play, to shop, to eat, to go to the theater, to gawk at your strange outfits, to help make your city go round. So give us a break. In fact, put your brakes on!

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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